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'Angels' in his presence

Quick-thinking grandchildren provide major assist
Kevin Utter describes his grandchildren, Paige and Turner Locken, as “my little heroes, my little angels.”

That description is fitting for the youngsters whose response to a medical crisis most likely saved Utter’s life.

The morning of Oct. 11, Utter, 52, was getting ready to take Paige, 9, and Turner, 6, to school at Fort Lincoln Elementary in Mandan. He was ready to start the van when Paige realized she had forgotten her gym shoes.

When she came back from the house, Turner was talking to his grandfather, trying desperately to get a response.

  Kevin Utter with his grandchildren, Paige and Turner
Kevin Utter, center, shops with his grandchildren, Paige and Turner Locken. The pair helped save Utter's life with quick action when Utter suffered a seizure.
Paige returned to the house, took her grandfather’s cell phone outside and called 911. Within minutes, paramedics arrived and were in contact with Sanford Emergency & Trauma Center requesting permission to administer an anti-seizure medication intravenously.

In the meantime, the children’s mother, Patty Kostelecky, received a phone call from Utter’s cell phone.

Dr. Paul Grooms
Paul Grooms, MD

Emergency medicine
  “I thought someone had forgotten something,” she said. “Instead, it was a police officer telling me what had happened and asking for Kevin’s medical information. He also said that because Paige had called, Kevin would be OK.”

Kostelecky reached the house before Utter was taken by ambulance to Sanford Health.

“Angels were watching over them,” she said. “If I hadn’t taken the kids there that morning, Kevin would have been alone. If Paige hadn’t forgotten her shoes, he would have been driving when the seizure started.”

Kostelecky was not surprised by her children’s quick thinking. “Kevin undergoes

kidney dialysis, so we’ve often talked about what to do if something happened to him,” she said. “The Mandan Fire Department has also gone to the school and talked to the kids about when to call 911.

”Because the brain was involved, the stroke protocol was enacted when Utter arrived at Sanford Medical Center.

“A patient suspected of having a stroke moves to the front of the line for CT scanning and blood work,” said Dr. Paul Grooms, a Sanford Health emergency medicine doctor. “This allows radiologists to more quickly determine if there is a bleed or a clot. If there is a clot, we may be able to administer a clot-busting drug within a three- to four-hour window for qualifying patients.”

The CT scan ruled out stroke, and that knowledge helped Dr. Grooms and the others in the Emergency & Trauma Center follow a different treatment path, which led to the diagnosis of seizures.

Utter was heavily sedated to prevent additional seizures and placed on a ventilator.

“One minute I was putting my keys in the ignition, and the next thing I remember was waking up in the ICU a day-and-a-half later,” Utter said. “I didn’t know where I was. After learning what had happened, I felt very lucky to be alive.”

Kostelecky said the first thing Utter said to his granddaughter was, “Thank you for saving my life.”

He also called the Mandan Fire Department to praise their efforts in educating school children.

“Time was critical because a seizure lasting more than five minutes starts destroying brain cells, and a patient can die if the seizure is not broken,” Dr. Grooms said. “The system worked very well for him. He was able to get help quickly through emergency medical services. At Sanford Medical Center, the system was in place for the stroke protocol, so testing was expedited and proper treatment implemented.”

Utter and his grandchildren remain as close as they always have, enjoying fishing and the outdoors in the summer and time together every day after school.

“If it hadn’t been for those two kids, I might not be here,” he said. “For things to happen the way they did, it was just a miracle.”

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